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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a form of bodywork that integrates relaxation techniques, meditation, and gentle stretching through yoga. The therapeutic benefits of practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction have been noted to be helpful in combating a variety of disorders and conditions. It is also gaining momentum has a therapeutic tool in western psychology and psychiatry. However, the fundamental principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction are not a New Age development. In fact, they were established more than 2,500 years ago in ancient India.
Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is credited with defining mindfulness and promoting its practice in everyday life. In short, mindfulness is living in the present moment. In meditative practice, it is the ability to fully return to the present after contemplating the past or future. Collectively, the tools used in mindfulness-based stress reduction training enable the practitioner to move beyond experiencing life as a race to get from one event to the next. At the same time, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques allow the individual to pay attention to his or her inner dialogue, but without the urge to silence, filter, or validate the ongoing self-talk.
By recognizing the duality of one’s inner and outer reality, the individual is free to focus on what is and what is not perceived. Otherwise, one may develop and become too attached to automatic attitudes, albeit unconsciously. In other words, we get caught up in living life according to the script we think exists and not the one we create for ourselves. Mindfulness-based stress reduction practitioners acknowledge that without this enhanced view, there is a diminished awareness of the mind-body relationship. As such, therein lies the greater potential for developing disease.
For example, it has been well established that the mind is a control factor in stress-related disorders that impact the body. Mindfulness-based stress reduction provides a safe, effective, and non-pharmaceutical means to address such disorders. In fact, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques have been used to successfully treat rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and even HIV and cancer.
An interesting element to the mindfulness-based stress reduction therapeutic model is the occasional use of martial arts to help individuals coping with chronic pain and impaired mobility. While this activity may seem contrary to the serenity of mediation and yoga, the same principles of mindfulness-based stress reduction apply. In this case, however, the objective is to replace atrophy with awareness-filled action.
The University of Massachusetts Medical Center is home to the renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. The program, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is offered in more than 200 hospitals throughout the U.S. In addition, the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program has been the subject of several outcome studies funded by The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. These studies have revealed that many patients with chronic pain have been able to improve coping skills while minimizing the need for medication.
Contrary to what many people believe you don't need a middle man to help you reach your goal of stress reduction through mindfulness and exercise. Creating your personal mindfulness-based stress reduction program is simple, however, you have to be willing to practice, practice, practice as you get familiar with the routine.
First you need to figure out the best method for you to attain a relaxed state. This may be best achieved by lying on the floor or sitting in the garden. That's for each individual to decide. Once this decision is made, close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Breathing is something we do continually, yet most of us seldom take notice of the process. Take
note of how air enters and leaves your body, how your stomach and chest rise and fall and how your body feels as you inhale and exhale. Initially, your mind will probably wander to matters other than your breathing, but you should become more focused with practice.
Once you have mastered the meditation routine, you can incorporate light stretches and subtle movements to add a physical element to your routine. A goal of 30 minutes a day is a reasonable one.
Mindfulness based stress reduction programs such as the one housed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, which was referenced in this article, are giving credence to the study and practice of using the mind to reduce stress and improve physical health.
In eastern medicine, the role of the mind in overall health has been explored for ages, but for western medicine the idea that meditation can be beneficial is still maturing. I look forward to the day when a person's mindfulness and awareness is measured as often as her blood pressure and heart rate.